Decolonizing the Collection

How does Mia work toward decolonizing the collection?

In the past as well as today, artworks have been taken from their original owners or physical contexts illicitly—through theft, as spoils of war, or by looting archaeological sites, for example—or purchased unethically through coercion, such as an implicit threat of violence or other hardship, and often in a colonial context. Art museums, including Mia, have benefited from these conditions.

Today, Mia researches the provenance of every potential acquisition extensively before proposing it to Mia’s board appointed Accessions Committee to avoid accessioning an artwork that has been illicitly or unethically removed from its owner, community, or archaeological context. To read more, please go to Building the Collection.

But museums, including Mia, have not always operated within these legal and ethical guidelines. For artworks that were acquired by our predecessors, we are in the process of researching their provenance and original contexts of collection, to fill in the gaps in our records over the last one hundred years. We work in good faith with individuals, nations, and countries who place claims on artworks currently in Mia’s collection. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible and to move toward the decolonization of museums by making thoughtful decisions based on the most accurate information.


Confronting the legacy of looting: From colonialism to Nazis, Mia is reckoning with the ancient problem of plunder

In February 2007, a UNESCO official named Alain Godonou gave a speech in which he concluded, with some back-of-the-envelope math, that “90 to 95 percent of African heritage is to be found outside the continent in the major world museums.”

Collecting the subcontinent: How South Asian art evolved under colonialism

The art of India—and the West’s understanding of it—would be reshaped by an increasingly shared history, shifting in tandem in a fraught, often awkward dance. Indian artists would create new forms and revive old ones, in response to British tastes and British rule itself, suggesting novel purposes for their ancient heritage—including the political.

Documenting diversity: How should museums identify art and artists?

The documentation of diversity by museums must be done thoughtfully, as part of a larger process. We need to confront our inherent biases regarding our collections and recognize that the so-called definitive histories we have been sharing are simply one point of view.

Who is an American? Here’s one way museums can ask—and answer.

Museums can offer complexity, with help from those largely written out of history, as a counterpoint to the simplistic American origin story that many of us were taught as children. But that story is a tenacious one. It has recently been given fresh legs as questions like “What is America?” and “Who is an American?” have been repeatedly raised in the past year, mostly for rhetorical purposes, as a political bludgeon to provoke fear, resentment, and hatred within American society.

Material girls: What a show of prehistoric female figurines says about us

On the first day of my first dig, in central France, I uncovered a dead man’s foot. It was the 1980s, the first of four seasons I spent digging a Late Iron Age/Early Roman site in the Auvergne during the hot summer months.

Mia is diversifying its collection—so how does that work?

In 2016, when the Guerrilla Girls staged a self-described “intervention” at Mia, the advocates for artistic diversity found some things to lament: relatively few works by women artists in the galleries, few works by people of color.

Who’s that girl? Why so many Native women artists are unnamed in museums

In just a few months, “Hearts of our People” will open at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the first major exhibition of art by Native American women.

Artist Andrea Carlson on the unspoken history, unseen stories, and awkward moments

Andrea Carlson wasn’t sure the museum would go for it. After all, as she puts it, the participants and collaborators in Let: an act of reverse incorporation are “kicking in the front door of historic institutional power.”